Christopher Savoie, a 38-year-old American arrested in Fukuoka earlier this week for allegedly abducting his two children from his Japanese ex-wife, took them because she did not have legal custody, his lawyer told The Japan Times on Friday.
Savoie said his former wife, Noriko, abducted the children from their home in Tennessee.
“After (Savoie’s) former wife abducted the two kids, a Tennessee court ruled that she does not deserve custodial rights and granted him sole custody. Savoie said his action followed the court’s decision,” his attorney, Tadashi Yoshino, said.
Savoie was handed over to prosecutors Wednesday and is being detained.
The family lived in Japan from 2001 to 2008, then moved to Tennessee. The couple divorced in January, Yoshino said.
They were working with a Tennessee court on a joint custody agreement, but after she took their 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter back to Japan without permission, the court stripped her of custody, Yoshino said.
Savoie was arrested after putting the two children, who were walking to school with their mother on Monday morning, into a car and driving to the U.S. Consulate in the city of Fukuoka, according to Fukuoka police. He has been charged with abducting minors. If convicted, his sentence could range from three months to seven years in prison, Yoshino said.
Yoshino said he will try to get the prosecutors to drop the indictment.
“His motive is understandable,” he said. “Leniency should be considered. Also, as a lawyer I have seen many cases in which parents take similar actions. This isn’t abnormal. Even people in their right mind do these things when it’s about their own children.”
Japan has not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, whose aim is to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in any signatory countries.
International pressure on Japan to sign the convention is expected to increase. Had Japan signed it, Savoie would have had other legal options to deal with his situation.
But Yoshino said: “This case is not about diplomacy. It’s not even a criminal case. It’s a family matter, which countries and police should stay away from.”
Savoie, fluent in Japanese, obtained Japanese citizenship in March 2005, Yoshino said.